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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Washington Post columnist/blogger Ezra Klein

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HH: Right now, I’m pleased to welcome for the first time Washington Post blogger and columnist, Ezra Klein. Ezra, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you on.

EK: Hi, Hugh.

HH: I want to dispel all the myths about talk radio. We actually like to talk to liberals about substance, so it’s great to have you on.

EK: I’m glad to chat with you.

HH: Ezra, tell me what you think of the Democratic campaign. Not the issues, but what have they done right or wrong in your view in this election season?

EK: I think you’ll have better people on for that than me in your next hour. Look, I tend to think campaigns don’t matter much. I think a lot of what happens in the final months of an election campaign are basically people finding ways to keep busy. If you asked me if I think attacking the Chamber of Commerce is going to change even one election, I will tell you no. I think there’s no chance of it. I think the Democratic campaign was essentially won and lost back in 2009 when the stimulus came in. And I think there’s a good argument it was too small. But in any case, I don’t think there’s a message that makes 10% unemployment go away.

HH: At the margin, does it impact turnout, enthusiasm, fundraising, the sorts of things that drive close elections?

EK: It probably does at the margin, except that it doesn’t affect it, I don’t believe, that much. I think that it has been hard to really see a difference from Barack Obama moving onto the campaign trail, and Democrats attempting a variety of different messages, which you know, I mean, these are political professionals, and they’re polling this stuff, and focus grouping it, and trying to figure out the best way to move on it. There is not a really obvious difference in the Gallup likely sort of voter enthusiasm numbers. And at the end of the day, I’m not saying there isn’t some platonically perfect political campaign that someone could run. But given a universe of sort of professional political guys who do this stuff, I don’t know what it is. And I don’t know that if you sort of switched your advice giver from, you know, Rahm Emanuel to Paul Begala, or whoever it might be, that you’d see much of a difference. I’m just sort of very skeptical of that on both sides.

HH: Now intellectually, we know that when Jimmy Carter comes out in 1980 and announces, concedes, he kills the West Coast. We know that when the DUI against Bush comes out in 2000, it really suffocates Republican turnout. When Florida is called erroneously for Gore in 2000, it kills a lot of West coast Senators on the Republican side. So messages to matter to some extent. What message, do you think, if you had five minutes with the DNC, would you be urging them to put out fight now?

EK: I’d call those events, Hugh. It seems to me that all this moved because people, there was an event that happened, and people on the West Coast thought they didn’t need to go out and vote for Carter anymore, people in Florida decided they didn’t need to go out and vote for Bush anymore. So I mean, I hate to be a stick in the mud about this…

HH: No, that’s a good distinction.

EK: I hate to be a stick in the mud about that. I just don’t think there’s a message that would change things.

HH: Okay.

EK: I mean, look, if I were them, I will say this, I do think that campaigns are a way you set up governance. If I were them, I would not be talking about just sort of the Chamber of Commerce, and whether or not there’s a foreign dollar in their advertising revenue, in part because I just don’t see it. But to try to unite the party and build support for some type of really fundamental root and branch campaign finance reform, like the Fair Elections Now Act, I think at the very least, you could see that having a helpful effect after the election. Whether or not it would do anything for them in the election, again I’m skeptical.

HH: Let me talk about three particular events. Three weeks ago, Harvard Pilgrim Heath Care up in New England cut off 22,000 seniors from their Medicare Advantage, said we’re done. Last week, the Principle Group in Indiana told 820,000 policy holders we’re out of this business, we’re selling your policies to someone else. And then last week, 3M told their retirees we’re out of this business. You’re into Medicare. Those are actual concrete events as Obamacare rolls out. Do you think those are killing the President?

EK: I don’t think those are, you can’t see much difference in the polls on Obamacare, as you call it, for many of those. And look, those are big events. There are also the opposite ones, right? There are preventive care is now free on insurance plans. People, kids up to age 26 are not required to be covered. So there are a bunch of things where Medicare beneficiaries are getting checks to help them in the donut hole. I’m not again seeing much difference from many of them. But those are things that at the very least matter. These do matter to real people. You know, when you get to some of these, and you look into the guts of them, you sort of look and you say well actually, maybe that’s a good thing that’s happening. You know, maybe we don’t want insurance plans that can only survive because they’re discriminating based against children. Maybe that’s not a great thing to have in the market one way or the other. But you’re right. In the health care bill right now, you’re seeing a mixture of early deliverables that aren’t that large, like free preventive care, and on the other side, disruptions to the market that are coming before the major reforms that are going to help most of the people the bill will actually help.

HH: All right, Ezra, you’re a man of the left, and my audience is primarily center-right, and it goes from Hawaii to New York, and Alaska to Florida. So you’ve got a couple of minutes here with that kind of an audience. In all honesty, why should they support a Democrat right now? Why should they send back a majority to help President Obama? What’s your pitch to them?

EK: Well, I’m not a pitchman for any side. If you’re asking me why do I think the Democrats have done a basically decent job over the past couple of years, I would say that the evidence pretty strongly supports the idea that the stimulus fundamentally worked, and I think you’ll argue with me on that. But you know, we can have that conversation. I think the health care bill is a good bill. I think it looks like what Romney did in Massachusetts. I know you wrote a book on him, sort of praising him for a lot of that. I think it looks a lot like what John Chafee from Rhode Island proposed in 1983 as the sort of moderate alternative to Clintoncare. And I think it’s a big accomplishment. And I think as time goes on, and if it is implemented, it will be remembered as an enormous achievement. Now at the same time, I think the economy’s in bad shape, and I don’t tell folks that their philosophy should be different than it is. But I do think that the evidence basically is that a mixture of George W. Bush’s sort of final policies and Barack Obama and his economic team’s management did a lot to keep us from going off the economic cliff. And then there’s been a mixture of positive investments. The stimulus, that I believe is too small, and then a health care bill that I think is going to be a really big improvement in a lot of people’s lives. It’s been a fundamentally productive Congress. So I think that they’ve got a lot to be proud of. Now how people should vote, that’s up to them.

HH: Now when the President says to the New York Times, “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects,” I view that as an admission at a minimum of startling naïveté about what he was urging the Congress to pass, and possibly of abject failure when he says there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects as he does. We’ve got about a minute left. How do you read that statement?

EK: I read that as an odd quote. So assume the stimulus bill has funded more than a thousand different infrastructure projects, or maybe it’s more…it’s some number well above a thousand, actually. I got numbers on this today that I have to put into a column for this week. When he says there’s no such thing as shovel-ready, it does mean that you can’t tell people every dollar is going to be spent tomorrow. But what they said is you would spend about 70% in the first two years, and they did. The actual spending of the stimulus on infrastructure and other things has proceeded on schedule. And it’s just sort of a not arguable thing there. Now where that quote came from? It’s an out of context quote. It’s a little bit hard to say.

HH: Ezra Klein, great to have you, I hope you come back. www.washingtonpost.com for all of Ezra’s blog posts over at the Washington Posts politics page, and his column weekly at the Washingtonpost.com.

End of interview.

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